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Category: Humor

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Perhaps I am not a Public Intellectual (TM) just yet

Apparently, Tuesday was “constitution day,” a day that I don’t remember being taught in elementary school to celebrate, unlike all the other patriotic holidays, but which mostly seems to involve being handed pocket copies of the constitution. And, evidently, yours truly attempting to hamfistedly summarize his personal views on constitutional interpretation for student journalists. The lighter side of Constitution Day:

Student Journalist, 3:24pm:

Dear Professor Gowder,

My name is [XXX] and I am a metro reporter for the Daily Iowan. I am writing an article on Constitution day and was directed to you to get answers to some questions I have. It would be a privilege to hear your perspective on the matter. My deadline is at 5:30 so I would need your answers at no later than 5:00. If it is possible for you to respond to these questions before then, I would deeply appreciate it. I look forward to potentially hearing from you and thank you for your time.
1.) In light of this holiday, how do you think we should be viewing the Constitution now days?

2.) Is it a living document meant to be changed with the times or a historical document that should be left alone?

3.) How does that apply to current debates over issues such as the second amendment and the 14th amendment?

4.) What other current debates do you think involve the constitution that need to be addressed in a certain way?

5.) Why is it important to read/recognize/celebrate our constitution today

Sincerely,

[XXX]

Daily Iowan Metro Reporter

Yr. Correspondent, 3:59pm, thinking he’s saying something useful:

Dear [XXX],

Those are some very complicated and involved questions! All of them are subjects of hot debate among legal scholars, judges, politicians, philosophers, and many others.

So I’ll just tell you what I think.

The root of the word “constitution” is “constitute”: to make a constitution is to constitute a bunch of people as a political community. We have to understand our constitution in that light: it’s an expression of what it means to be us, our shared commitment as a people. Accordingly, the constitution we have expresses that commitment in many of its most important provisions in the form of moral ideals: “equal protection of the laws,” “cruel and unusual punishments,” “due process of law,” “freedom of speech,” “unreasonable searches.” In order for the constitution to continue to express our collective moral identity, today, we have to interpret those terms as we understand them, in accordance with the evolving ideals to which we’re committed. That might not be the same as how James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson understood it. And that’s ok.

If you want to say that means the constitution is a “living document,” sure, fine, I can live with that, but to say that it’s a living constitution doesn’t mean we have to “change it with the times.” It’s still the same constitution; we’re still “leaving it alone”; but the meaning of the words in the constitution draws on social realities that are potentially different at every moment of interpretation. It’s still the same constitution, the ideals—no cruel punishments, for example—that it expresses are still the same ideals, but the meaning of what a cruel punishment is changes when we, the people, do. That’s just how collective practices of social value-making work. And that’s a good thing, too, because it means that our fundamental law continues to be ours, that we can continue to be actively committed to it, to demand that our government follow it, and hence to collectively protect the basic rights that we all cherish.

Journalist:

[shockingly, silence, and not quoting the undersigned's rambling academic-ese.]

Perhaps one day I’ll get to be a Public Intellectual.

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Scene from the AALS New Law Teacher’s Conference

Thanks to everyone at AALS for an enlightening and inspiring conference. This year’s version was held at the Mayflower Hotel. Yes, that Mayflower Hotel. Which makes the following sign rather curious:

Mayflower

Given the Spitzer tie, this might be a delicious coincidence. Or else someone has a subversive sense of humor. (I miss living in D.C., the best place I have ever lived for nerd humor like this!)

Responses from conference attendees were divided, so I’ll throw it open to the CoOp readership. Is this sign (intentionally) a joke?

 

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LSA Retro-Recap Day 0: Introducing VOSFOTWOAS

Greetings from (a plane on the way home from) Boston! In the past I really enjoyed Dave’s recap of CELS. I thought I’d carry things on with this retro diary (h/t Bill Simmons) of the Law and Society Association meeting.

Before getting to the presentations, here’s a post with some general thoughts on LSA. Like many of the most enjoyable things in life, this conference is a beautiful mess. Fully developed research programs are mashed together with provocative conjectures. Paradigm-shifting ideas comingle with stuff that would get a “good effort” if presented as an undergraduate term paper. How can you determine the formers from the latters? Read More

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Daily Routine: Then and Now

Intellectuals used to refine ideas in relative solitude before releasing them to the world.  Modern technology has led the incubation of ideas to occur publicly, dynamically and in real-time. Is that entirely good or are some ideas better developed in private?  Brief reflection on the daily routine offers a window onto the transformation.

A typical Wednesday during the academic year in 2003 for a professor might have begun by reading the printed newspaper delivered to the front door, evaluating stories of interest to one’s class, followed by a trip to the office, a review of a binder of teaching notes, and the live interactive dialogue with students assembled in person.  After lunch, reading of printed journal articles and bound books would stimulate  production of such output, as well as op-eds, essays, chapters and treatises.

Today, the typical day begins by checking (1) email, including Google alerts, (2) Twitter, (3) Facebook, (4) Linked In,  (5) this blog (Concurring Opinions), (6) several bookmarked blogs, (7) blawg search, (8) SSRN and Scholarly Commons, (9) reddit, and (10) the web sites of one or more news organizations.  Then professors email students, create and update PowerPoint slides on course web pages or MOOC sites, type Tweets, update Facebook, draft responsive blog posts and download papers to lap tops and books to e-readers.

Eventually, the scholar will still turn ideas generated during a semester’s worth of such daily routines into the old fashioned products, such as books and articles.   But the route differs considerably.  In the old days, study would be relatively private, with ideas developed reflectively in one’s school, tested against a careful review of a vetted literature, surfaced in substantially mature form via classroom lecture, faculty workshop and conference presentations, refined, submitted, reviewed, edited and published.  More speculative ideas might appear, if at all, in footnotes classified as such.

Today, much of the incubating process occurs in real time and in public, with inchoate ideas floated on Twitter and Facebook and then perhaps in blog posts and comments before being turned into op-eds, essays, chapters, articles, books and the rest. It is exciting and interactive and creates a sense of communities engaged in broad pursuit of knowledge.  Yet reading some of the unrefined stuff out there raises the question, to paraphrase what Moses Hadas said of a certain book, whether modern technology fills a much-needed gap.  Just an idea.

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Harvard Law Review and Others to Cease Hard Copy Publication; Going Digital

Embracing post-print modernity, the Harvard Law Review and several other journals announced over the weekend that they would cease producing hard copy versions in favor of publishing only on-line.

The announcement, joined by the group of journals that co-edit “The Bluebook,” a  leading guide to legal citation that went digital five years ago, responds to rising costs of printing along with declining demand for the format.

“Legal scholars, like other people, do their reading digitally,” said the announcement, issued jointly by the editors of Harvard, Columbia and Penn Law Reviews and Yale Law Journal, which already has a substantial on line commitment.

Reaction from across the legal academy was mixed.  Some law review editors at other schools expressed relief. “We have long desired to move this way too, but feared ridicule if we got out ahead of the fanciest journals,” confided one journal’s editor in chief, insisting on anonymity.

Other editors criticized the move as over-broad.  ”There  continues to be widespread belief that printed versions of symposium issues are cost-effective and in demand,” opined Allen Nobile, symposium editor at Cardozo Law School’s top journal.

Among those applauding the move were some who attributed the development to advocacy on this blog, especially the recent post by Aaron Zelinsky urging this step.  After all, as Zelinsky noted, law reviews are among the last cohort to make the shift, lagging behind such organs as the Internal Revenue Bulletin, ProPublica, and the science journal PLOS-ONE.

More old-fashioned sorts were seen poised to lament the move as continued evidence of the decline of the printed word, bound volumes of historic and cultural value lost at some cost, perhaps.

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“Yes, Prime Minister” on Leaks

I was reading a draft of David Pozen’s terrific article, forthcoming in the Harvard Law Review, about “The Leaky Leviathan:  Why the Government Condemns and Condones Unlawful Disclosures of Information.”  With my bent of mind, though, I was reminded of this:

Sir Humphrey Appleby:

“What is the difference between a breach of the Official Secrets Act and an unofficial briefing by a senior official? The former is a criminal offence. The latter is essential to keep the wheels turning. Is there a real objective difference? Or is it merely a matter of convenience and interpretation? You, prime minister, will inevitably argue that it is up to you to decide whether it is in the public interest for something to be revealed or not. This would be your justification for claiming that a leak … which must have come from an official is a breach of the act. However, this raises some interesting constitutional conundrums.

1. What if the official was officially authorised?

2. What if he was unofficially authorised?

3. What if you, prime minister, officially disapprove of a breach of the act but unofficially approve? This would make the breach unofficially official but officially unofficial. I hope this is of help to you.”

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Innovate or Innovation, Your Assurance of Meaningless Assertions

In the words of Portlandia, innovation is over. Or as another era of hipsters might say, innovation is dead anyway (Swingers). Take a look at the posturing of European Publishers Council and Google over the recent German bill to force search to pay for material longer than a snippet.

“As a result of today’s vote, ancillary copyright in its most damaging form has been stopped,” Google said in a statement. “However, the best outcome for Germany would be no new legislation because it threatens innovation, particularly for start-ups. It’s also not necessary because publishers and Internet companies can innovate together, just as Google has done in many other countries.”

Translation: Insert resistance is futile jokes as needed, but you will work with us and win! We all will win, because we innovate and belong to the Church of Innovation (located somewhere south of San Francisco and north of San Jose).

“With the right legal conditions and the technical tools provided by the Linked Content Coalition, it will be easy to access and use content legally,” the European Publishers Council said in a statement (PDF) on Friday. “This will mean that publishers will have the incentive to continue to populate the internet with high-quality, authoritative, diverse content and to support new, innovative business models for online content.”

Translation: We have no idea what is next. But please give us more time, protection, and money. We promise we will come up with something new.

Confession: Have I invoked innovation. Of course. It is seductive. It is too seductive. Pam Samuelson is a fan of Orwell’s Politics and the English Language, as is Neil Richards, and as am I. I must confess that I have sinned. I slipped away from Orwell’s mandate and went with the easy, meaningless word. I hate when that happens. I will try and stop.

Of course, what other word or words would say more is the next struggle. The German law says only a snippet is allowed. Right. What’s a snippet? Someone says innovate. I say, “Right. What’s innovate?” I hope to find out. If I am lucky, I may be like Bill Cosby’s Noah and come up with an answer no one else thought of. Hmm is that innovat… Khannn!!!!

Enjoy the clip

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Bring on Jurassic Park!: Resurrection of Extinct Animals

Scientists have come to a “technical, not biological” problem in trying to resurrect a once extinct frog. Popular Science explains the:

gastric-brooding frog, native to tiny portions of Queensland, Australia, gave birth through its mouth, the only frog to do so (in fact, very few other animals in the entire animal kingdom do this–it’s mostly this frog and a few fish). It succumbed to extinction due to mostly non-human-related causes–parasites, loss of habitat, invasive weeds, a particular kind of fungus.

Specimens were frozen in simple deep freezers and reinserted into another frog. The embryos grew. The next step is to get them to full adulthood so they can pop out like before. Yes, these folks are talking to those interested in bringing back other species.

As for this particular animal, the process reminds me a bit too much of Alien, which still scares the heck out of me.

the gastric-brooding frog lays eggs, which are coated in a substance called prostaglandin. This substance causes the frog to stop producing gastric acid in its stomach, thus making the frog’s stomach a very nice place for eggs to be. So the frog swallows the eggs, incubates them in her gut, and when they hatch, the baby frogs crawl out her mouth.

Science. Yummy. Oh here is your law fodder. What are the ethical implications? Send in the clones! (A better title for Attack of the Clones, perhaps).

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C.V. / Resume in Word Cloud

My students tell me they sometimes get advice to word-cloud their resumes.  Advisers say this can help assure that the document conveys the most important messages students wish.  I’ve toyed with word clouds for other applications and decided to word cloud my own c.v.  (below).  Nothing surprising to my eyes.  It does make me curious what I’d see in the word clouds of other prawfs. Also, could a refined version of this rival the entry-level AALS forms now used for aspiring prawfs?

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The Pope’s Red Stefanelli’s

The following is from the News Democrat (IL) via McClatchy-Tribune Information Services, dateline March 5, 2013; byline Roger Schlueter, headline “The devil wears Prada … but what about the pope’s red loafers?”

In 2006, Hollywood showed us that “The Devil Wears Prada.” Could it be that Pope Benedict XVI made questionable fashion choices concerning his very sole?  This was the rumor that began swirling after Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI in April 2005. Retiring the brown shoes worn by his predecessor, John Paul II , Benedict brought back the red loafers favored by many previous popes.

His fashion sense, which, included Serengeti sunglasses and Geox-donated walking shoes, quickly gained the notice of designers.   In its 2007 list of the best-dressed men in the world, Esquire magazine named Benedict “accessorizer of the year” for his ornate papal habits paired with those red shoes. Perhaps because of that, you’ll still find stories that claim Benedict’s red footwear are none other than that chi-chi Italian brand Prada costing who knows how much.

Well, those shoes are worth hundreds of dollars a pair, but they aren’t Prada — and they didn’t cost Catholics a penny. They’re the work of Adriano Stefanelli , an Italian shoemaker who, out of love for his church, reportedly began making shoes as a gift for the pope a decade ago.

“When I was a child and people would ask me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I used to answer, ‘I’d like to make the pope’s shoes,’” Stefanelli told Catholic Online (www.catholic.org) in 2008. “Today, it seems to me, I’ve realized my childhood dream.” . . .  The shoes — which Stefanelli describes as “ruby red, almost bordeaux” — are hand-sewn and take nearly a month to make. [They cost about $550 a pair.]  

The return to red served several purposes for Benedict, who loves cats and relaxed at night by practicing the piano, [said] Lawrence Cunningham , a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame . . . .  Traditionally, he said, red is worn to symbolize the blood shed by Catholic martyrs. It also signifies the burning fire of God’s love. . . .